by Delia

Do you have plans for celebrating Cinco do Mayo? Like St. Patrick’s Day, one doesn’t have to actually have the appropriate heritage to participate in Cinco de Mayo festivities! But what are you actually commemorating?

By 1861, following the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, the Mexican Civil War of 1858 and the Reform Wars of 1860, the Mexican territory was in dire financial straits, and placed a hold on paying off foreign debts. Britain, Spain and France all sent naval forces to compel payments. The British and Spanish negotiated with Mexico and returned home, but the French, seeing an opportunity to gain influence in the Western Hemisphere, landed a large French contingent at Vera Cruz, forcing President Benito Juarez and his government to retreat. The French fought their way to Puebla, near the Mexican forts of Guadalupe and Loreto. There, on May 5 (Cinco de Mayo), 1862, the Mexican army of about 4500 faced and defeated the 8000-strong French. But one battle did not win the war, and the Mexicans continued to resist the French invaders until 1867, when high ranking French leaders of the invasion were executed and Juarez reestablished his government.

Cinco de Mayo is not “Mexican Independence Day,” nor is it even a national holiday in Mexico. Mexico’s actual Independence Day, September 16th, celebrates the beginning of Mexico’s War of Independence in 1810, and is the national holiday in Mexico.

Cinco de Mayo has been celebrated by the Latino community in California since the mid-1800s, and spread to other Hispanic communities in the western United States. It began to become more popular in the rest of the U.S. in the mid-twentieth century, but really gained popularity when various companies promoted it as a holiday. Now, while it’s still marketed as a time for anyone to party, it’s also used as a vehicle to highlight Mexican history and culture. So, go ahead and enjoy the fiesta!